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[NAIROBI] African nations are being urged to routinely vaccinate infants against the main cause of childhood meningitis and pneumonia, after a trial in Kenya showed that the vaccine cut the incidence of disease by 88 per cent.

Researchers, led by Karen Cowgill of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published the findings yesterday (9 August) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

They say that vaccinating against the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) prevented around 3,370 Kenyan children from being hospitalised in 2005.

The study is the first of its kind in East Africa. Its findings support those of studies in Chile, The Gambia, the United Kingdom and United States.

"It is vital to support public health interventions, such as the introduction of Hib vaccine, with hard evidence," said Shahnaz Sharif, deputy director of medical services at Kenya's Ministry of Health.

Sharif said Kenya would also be evaluating new vaccines to prevent other major childhood diseases, such as life-threatening diarrhoea caused by the rotavirus.

Less than 40 per cent of African countries use Hib vaccines routinely. Cowgill says that if more did, many deaths could be avoided.

Worldwide, Hib causes three million cases of serious disease among children and kills 400,000 of them a year.

The study was conducted jointly by the CDC, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

Link to abstract of paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association

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